Conductor's Notes
for "The King & I"
by Rodgers & Hammerstein

by John Raymond Howell
Department of Music
Virginia Tech

 


General Music Notes
Orchestral Notes
Cue-by-cue Notes

 


Introduction

This is in the nature of a background briefing for anyone who is going to serve as musical director or conductor for the wonderful show, "The King & I." Even experienced conductors are challenged by the demands of approaching a new show, especially since only the script and piano-vocal score are generally available in advance for perusal, and the orchestral parts may offer unique challenges. I wanted to make this background briefing available while the preparation and run of our production are still fresh in my mind. And I would encourage other conductors to provide similar background briefings on shows they have conducted.

I hope that this briefing will be especially valuable for those who may have enjoyed Broadway musicals from the audience, but have never conducted one. This is not intended as a primer on how to put on musical theater. That would require a whole book! But fortunately that book has already been written. It is by James H. Laster, and it is titled "So You're the New Musical Director!" published by Scarecrow Press, 2001. www.scarecrowpress.com.

Please bear in mind that I am commenting on one production of "The King & I" with a specific stage director, choreographer, set designer, and running crew. Every production is different. But if my notes and comments help clarify any aspect of this show for you, then I will have accomplished the modest goal I set for myself. Ours was a volunteer community theater production. School, semi-professional, and Equity productions will necessarily be different in some ways.

 


General Music Notes

1. The piano-conductor book appears to be a copy of the commercially available piano-vocal score (i.e. it is printed), with abundant cues and instrument indications added by hand. It really does have everything you need to conduct the show, except of course for answering specific questions or troubleshooting in rehearsal for which you would need a full score, and as usual there isn't one.

2. There are important differences in many places between the piano-conductor book and the instrumental parts. In some places your music is written out, while some or all of the parts have repeat signs. You just have to find those when you trip over them in rehearsals. There are the inevitable copyist errors or ambiguities, but we found very few, and the copyists' hands are better than average.

3. Beware of No. 18 (and perhaps No. 19 as well). There are two versions in the cello book, in two different keys! We discovered it the hard way in rehearsal. Obviously No. 18 (and No. 19?) were transposed at some point during the first run, and the new pages were incorporated into all the parts, but somebody goofed and left the original pages in the cello book as well! The librarians at Rodgers & Hammerstein are not musicians and will not admit that there could possibly be any errors in their scores, so don't even ask them about it.

4. There are a number of places where notations of "Tacet" or parentheses placed around notes appear in the part books, but not in the piano-conductor book. My first reaction was that the notes so marked were Rodgers' original intention and should be played. After I thought it out, however, I decided that (a) he had made modifications, either during rehearsals or during the first run, to fine tune the score; (b) it was cheaper just to have the copyists add those notations rather than recopying a whole page; and (c) that the modifications were indeed Rodgers' intentions, and should be observed.

5. This is a LARGE orchestra, 29 players (with 2 percussionists) plus the conductor. Local 802 must have had a lot more influence back in 1951! We barely shoehorned everyone into our pit. Be warned! Everyone found room to bow, but it wasn't easy.

6. If you are involved in the auditions (and you should be!), note that Tuptim needs a high A# at the end of "Lord and Master," and Lady Thiang needs a good high G (although a rich mezzo voice is perfect for this part). Lun Tha also needs a usable high G. Many of the women's and children's chorus parts are quite high. Rodgers knew exactly where to pitch voices to carry in a New York theater without amplification. Make sure they are using head voice, and it really isn't a problem.

7. In the Reprise of "A Puzzlement" (No. 18), both boys need serviceable low Gs. (This is one of the songs that was transposed at some point.)

8. In the piano-vocal score, there is a seating plan for the original run orchestra. I tried it and basically it works well, with some modifications, once I figured out that it was designed for a pit with one door in the middle (we have two doors in the back corners). It's important to have ear contact between the violas and cellos, who share a lot of parts, and between the violas and Violin C, who share a lot of offbeats, and cellos and bass, who double from time to time. Any arrangement you use will be a compromise.

9. On the Rodgers & Hammerstein Library website (find it and download LOTS!), it says of the cast, "large chorus." Look in the score and you won't find a single song for a large chorus. That's because every "chorus" member is assigned to one specific subgroup of characters. You have your Priests (the men), your Royal Wives (the women), and the Royal Children (the kids). Then you have the singers for "Small House," who can include both women and children if you want.

10. Your dancers do not have to sing. Some of ours did, some just danced, and some were drawn from the Royal Wives and Royal Princesses. Especially for the ballet, it is a great advantage to have dancers with real training, including the young ones.

11. There is a recording that is recommended on the Rodgers and Hammerstein Library website that includes ALL the music in full, just as you will have it when the scores arrive. Get it! Your choreographer can choreograph to it without your having to worry about making a scratch recording, providing a rehearsal pianist all the time, or wondering whether the scores are going to be different from the CD. It's a 2-CD set that retails for about $35, and worth every penny! What it does NOT do is give you all the dialog as it might actually be timed out in performance.

12. Some of your singers will learn their songs from this recording. Nothing wrong with that. But a few will not be good enough musicians to take any tempo except the tempo of the recording. If that happens, go with the flow and humor them. (Worked for me!)

13. This is a LONG show--over 3 hours according to the "official" timings in the script. In the movie, at least four songs were cut for time, bringing it down to about 2:20, but the songs cut were essential to establishing character. Instead, consider taking out some encores, tightening up some long dialogs, and working out internal cuts in some songs, perhaps omitting a middle verse.

14. In general the orchestration and the dynamics marked are very good. Use mutes where it says to, and solo strings where it says to.

15. You will find a mish-mash of rehearsal numbers and rehearsal letters. And sometimes the rehearsal numbers or letters jump out of order. Just be aware of it, because it never really causes problems. What it does is tell us that a LOT of fine tuning was done and sections added or deleted during rehearsals, pre-opening tryouts, and maybe even during the first run. What's important to know is that the letters and numbers are the same in all parts as well as the piano-vocal score.

16. This isn't your worry, but it might be helpful to know. With a very large cast, we found it cost-effective to rent costumes for the principals so our sewing crew could concentrate on the various chorus costumes. And also to rent a number of drops so that our set construction crew could concentrate on the set pieces. We had large set pieces, but beautifully constructed and very easy to roll on and off.

17. There is a legitimate 2-piano accompaniment available instead of the orchestration, if that fits your situation better.

18. We borrowed two large gongs, and had use for both. One was used on stage, played by the King or other actors. The other was in the pit, played by our percussionist. A third, smaller gong is useful for the ballet.

19. The script is the most detailed I've ever seen, with appendices detailing the costumes, lighting plot, hanging plot, etc. etc. Of course those details represent the original New York production, but they may be helpful to your technical designers.

20. The doctrine that worked best for us regarding orchestra dynamics was this: Where the orchestra is by itself, observe the marked dynamics. When the orchestra is accompanying singers, play one dynamic softer than marked. When the orchestra is playing under dialog, play two dynamics softer than marked. (In some places that amounts to quintuple piano, and yes, that's what's needed!)

21. The website for our production, at least until it gets moved or taken down, may be found at: http://www.civic.bev.net/sme/index.html.

22. See also the separate rundown of specific notes on each musical cue.

 


Orchestral Notes

For those who don't know, Richard Rodgers wrote every note of the music, but Robert Russell Bennett did the orchestration, as he did for many other shows. His orchestrations are great, and do not tend to overpower the singers if you take care to keep things under control. And as in other Rodgers shows, the woodwind parts are for orchestral instruments with only orchestral doubles and no sax doubles required. (In many shows you will get "Reed 1" through "Reed 5," with one saxophone and at least one other instrument--flute or flute and piccolo, clarinet, bass clarinet, etc. in each book. If you don't have doublers you need to add more people in the pit, which takes up space. This show doesn't do that.)

 

Here is what we received:

One Violin A book
One Violin B book
One Violin C book
One Viola book
One Cello book
One Bass book
Two Flute books, piccolo in Flute 2
One Oboe book, includes English horn
Three Clarinet books, bass clarinet in Clarinet 3
One Bassoon book
One Trumpet 1 & 2 book
One Trumpet 3 book
One Horn 1 & 2 book
One Horn 3 book
Two Trombone books
One Tuba book
One Harp book
Two Percussion books (identical)
Two Piano-vocal scores for rehearsal pianists (identical)

There is no piano/keyboard book for this show.

 Detailed Discussion:

Violins: Violin A has divisi, Violin B has divisi, Violin C does not have divisi. In other words, there are 5 violin parts, and the original production used exactly 5 violins! I used six, with two less experienced players on Violin C, and guess what? They really did balance the rest of the orchestra! I don't think Violin C can be omitted, although it is certainly less demanding than A and B.

Violas: There is one part with divisi, so two players are needed. In a pinch, one player could probably cover most things, but the balance works best with two.

Cellos: There is one part with lots of divisi, so two players are needed, and a lot would be lost if you had only one. There is some tenor clef. I actually had three, and would have rotated a different one out for each performance, but we managed to fit them all into the pit.

Bass: One player who gets a good sound is sufficient. There's a lot of arco. An electric bass would be a disaster; don't do it!

Flutes: Two books, with piccolo double in the Flute 2 book. This was a problem for us because our piccolo player (and the piccolo is absolutely essential) was also our best flutist, and there are a number of solo places in the Flute 1 book. They worked out a way to make it happen by trading parts. Both flutes are essential.

Oboe: There are quite a few parts for English horn double, but they all have an alternate oboe part copied in as well. Our player did not play English horn, and I really missed the exoticness the instrument would have provided, but probably nobody else even noticed. Some summers we've used soprano sax when we had no oboist, but that would be a real shame in this show.

Clarinets: There are three clarinet parts, and all are essential. Clarinet 3 doubles bass clarinet quite a lot, and that is also essential. I was lucky enough to have a high school bass clarinet specialist who practices at home on a soprano clarinet.

Bassoon: The part is essential. We couldn't come up with a bassoonist, so the part was covered by a bari sax. There are some parts in tenor clef that had to be adjusted. Again, I seriously missed the exoticness of the bassoon sound.

Trumpets: 1 and 2 are absolutely essential. 3 can be omitted if necessary, but you would miss it. No high screaming parts, but good range and a good lead attitude help on the first part, which has some challenges in it. That's especially true in the "Slow March" in the Ballet, which has echoes of Stravinsky or Prokofiev.

Horns: Again, 1 and 2 are absolutely essential. 3 can be omitted if necessary, and in fact we did not have a horn 3, but I missed the notes that were missing. Horn 3 is noticeably less challenging than horns 1 & 2.

Trombones: Both parts are essential, but trombone 2 could be omitted if absolutely necessary. In fact, because of a mixup we had no trombone 2 on closing night, and I'm the only one who noticed. No tenor clef.

Tuba: Used for great effects, and would be sorely missed if the part were not covered, especially in the Ballet but also to lend weight exactly where it's needed throughout. You definitely want the part covered, unlike some other shows.

Harp: Absolutely essential, and much better if actually played on harp. A keyboard with a decent patch can cover the part and play the notes, but can't provide the special effects that only a real harp can produce. Note: No piano part or other keyboard part provided or needed. The first time I heard a Broadway score with harp I was struck at how much it added to the sound without adding to the noise! It does lots of different things in this score.

Percussion: Calls for two players. Can it be covered by one? Yes, but choices will have to be made and some things will have to be left out. Mostly that's what we did. Needs drum set, but used in non-jazz ways. Two timps, orchestra bells, xylophone, temple blocks, maybe one chime tube, some other toys, and a large gong. Yes, it's real crowded in that corner! Try to scrounge a Musser M-39 Pit Xylophone if you can. It's in a flat box like orchestra bells, doesn't have resonators, and was designed for exactly this use. The only decent sounding finger cymbals are the cast Zildjians, expensive and worth every penny! Our audio guy is a percussionist and managed to join us in the second act for "Small House." It helped. Note also that in "Small House" an additional percussionist is needed on stage, playing gong, drum, slapstick and ratchet. I used one of the Royal Princesses who is a musician and reads music well. Note also that the part for that player is ONLY in the percussion book, not in the vocal score or the piano-conductor score. It took me a while to discover that.

Difficulty level: A majority of our players were Community Band and Community String Orchestra members, augmented by some good young players (high school age and college). They were challenged, but learned their parts and played them well. We are an all-volunteer community group. If you have the luxury of funding to hire professional players, they will require a minimum of rehearsal time as long as YOU know the score absolutely cold, and have all the cuts and adjustments ready for them. We started in early June when the music arrived, rehearsed twice a week until production week, and opened August 14 for 8 performances, each one better than the one before. Such is community theater.

 
Cue-by-cue Notes

No. 0: Overture

Straightforward, and beautifully written.

No. 1: Opening Act 1

Make sure your stage manager knows when the curtain should open. (I actually called it on headset because it's marked in my score.) Figure out your fadeout once the scene has been blocked.

No. 2: I Whistle A Happy Tune

Difficult for the men offstage to get their pitch. I added one viola and one cello to the chant, up bow, crescendo to sforzando. Consider a cut from six after 9 to four before 11, for time.

No. 3: Incidental For Dialogue

This will only work if your director blocks for it from the beginning. Ours didn't. We didn't miss it.

No. 4: Exit: I Whistle A Happy Tune

No problems.

No. 5: Vignettes And Dance

This depends entirely on how your director and/or choreographer wants to handle the front of curtain activity. Ours took a minimalist approach, so we started at F (where the original production started) and faded after J on a cue from the stage. It would be a shame not to get into the "exotic" music at J, but the ending doesn't work unless your director blocks it exactly as in the script. We faded on a gong stroke on stage, and didn't get to the end.

No. 6: My Lord And Master

Straightforward, except that my strings had trouble starting the syncopated figure whether I beat in 2 or in 4. Allow extra rehearsal time for this, basically just getting it started properly. Omitted in the movie.

No. 7: Incidental For Dialogue

Again, this won't work unless your director blocks it from the beginning. We didn't miss it.

No. 8: Hello, Young Lovers

There's an unmarked rall. in the last 4 bars of the verse that's almost required.

No. 9: Encore: Hello, Young Lovers

R & H were masters of using effective encores, but consider cutting this for time.

No. 10: The March Of Siamese Children

Wonderful, wonderful music. Work closely with your stage director on the timing of entrances. The Crown Prince's entrance must be at 3. We had 22 princes and princesses, but we made it without having to repeat anything by bringing in most two at a time.

No 11: Postlude to The March Of Siamese Children

Straightforward, although my cue was changed because our Anna didn't have a hat.

No. 12: Scene Before Curtain

Immediate applause segue or start on lighting cue, depending on which is set as a cue in your production. Make sure your priests are loud enough to be heard, and the children may have to book it to make their entrance.

No. 13: A Puzzlement

There are three different tempos. Find tempos your King is comfortable with. It's important to know--and to tell your orchestra--that at 5 and at 9, even though it is marked cut time, it is in 4. The other time signatures in the show are mostly correct, but this one is not. Keep the orchestra volume under control, especially toward the end. Members of our orchestra were confused 6 before the end by the fact that there are two bars alloted for "... is a puzzlement." You're better off telling them just to play on your downbeats. Try to time your cutoff on the end with the King's fall.

No. 14: School-Room Scene

Works best if Anna is conducting the children and you follow her. They will pick up their pitch from the orchestra's entrance, no problem. Kids don't know it's hard! Note that some of the orchestra books have the second start marked as 14-A, but not all of them and not the piano-conductor book or piano-vocal score.

No. 15: Getting To Know You

Find out as early as possible what the dance break after 7 is, and whether you'll need to adjust the tempo there. I had to slow down for the dance, even though it had been choreographed to the CD, possibly because the "dancers" in that scene were not really trained dancers.

No. 16: Incidental

Will only work if you are in on the blocking from the beginning. We needed extra time for a scene change behind the curtain, and inserted a verse from No. 13 ("Shall I join with other nations ..." at 9) before 2.

No. 17: We Kiss In A Shadow

I tended to take it too fast, because I had a singer who wanted it slower. He was one of the ones who couldn't take any tempo but the one on the CD. When I found his tempo the problem was solved. Consider piu mosso at 4, rit. to a tempo 8 bars later, same thing at D. Five from the end, work with your singers and find out what they are comfortable with.

No. 17-A: Kiss Encore

If you have too much music for the dialog, consider starting at B.

No. 18: Reprise: A Puzzlement

You'll have to fit the intro to your director's blocking. We used it all, and the boys pantomimed but didn't speak until the break before E. Note that the ritard four before L starts two bars sooner than in No. 13. Omitted in the movie.

No. 19: Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?

Many tempo changes. Rehearse with your singer until she is happy with your tempos. Consider a cut from sixteen after 3 to one before 4, for time, and another from 7 to one before 10. (We used three chime strokes on B to give her the new pitch, as if a clock were chiming.) She will probably want to slow a bit from 11 to her ending. It's well worth the extra rehearsal time with your Anna to get this coordinated perfectly, because it's a dynamite number. Omitted from the movie.

No. 20: Something Wonderful

Straightforward.

No. 21: Change of Scene

You may want to speed this up to emphasize the agitato.

No. 22: Reprise: Something Wonderful

Keep very quiet under dialog.

No. 23: Change of Scene

Our Anna did not give the spoken cues at the end, but I timed it for her entrance.

No. 24: Scene

Schedule extra rehearsal time with the cast for this! Our director made some changes in the script, so I started as they started to talk about the banquet, and stopped after Anna mentioned Tuptim's play and the King answered "We'll show them who is barbarian!" Be prepared to make adjustments to match your director's blocking and timing.

No. 25: Fireworks

Ideally you should break in on the dialog and that should be the cue for pyro or lighting and sound effects. (We could not use pyro in our facility.) The music under dialog is marked pp, but it needs to be pppp!

No. 26: Finale Act I

Work it out so the King does hand claps where he is supposed to, and you can cut off each chord as he does. Then make sure the chorus knows that they come in with "Etcetera" on beat 3 after bumps in the orchestra on beats 1 and 2.

 

No. 27: Entr'Act (unnumbered in some books)

Straightforward. Again, I called the curtain cue for the stage manager because I have it in my score and he had no way of following the music.

No. 27-A: Opening Act II (labeled No. 27 in some books)

Work with your Royal Wives to figure out where you need to fade. Note that the tempo is slightly faster than the following song.

No. 28: Western People Funny

Consider a cut from pickup to 5 to pickup to 7 for time. The exit should start immediately during applause, not after it.

No. 29: Exit Of Wives

As fast as you can play it, and make sure your actors don't try to start talking until you are finished.

No. 30: Dance Of Anna And Sir Edward

Slow and elegant does not mean draggy. It should be moderate, just not a competition waltz tempo. Using a solo quintet with mutes is an excellent idea.

No. 31: Exit Of Anna, King And Sir Edward

Beautifully timed and very effective.

No. 32: Incidental We Kiss In A Shadow

Be in on the blocking of this to find out where you will need to fade.

No. 33: I Have Dreamed

Consider a 4-beat for the intro going into a moderate 2-beat on the song. Two before 3 be sure to take a brighter tempo, which goes back to normal tempos two before 4 and at 4.

No. 34: Reprise: Hello, Young Lovers

Understand the director's concept as early as possible. Our Anna did not sing on this, so we didn't start it until she said "God Bless you both" and exited. In other words, we used it as scene change music, because "I Have Dreamed" was done on stage rather than in front of the curtain. If you do that, you'll need to add a melody instrument starting on "not really by chance" at the bottom of page 2. Clarinet, flute and oboe is a nice sound.

No. 35: The Small House Of Uncle Thomas

May you be blessed by a great choreographer and more than competent dancers! This is a hoot. Note that you will need a percussionist/actor on stage. I used one of the royal princesses who was about 12, plays sax and oboe, and reads music! Her cues are in the percussion book, not in the vocal score or the piano-conductor. (Took me a while to discover that!) What she needs is a gong, a drum, a slapstick, and a ratchet. We used two gongs on stage, a large one representing King Simon of Legree and a small nipple gong elsewhere. (You can get one from Lark In The Morning in California, or Steve Weiss Percussion in Philadelphia.) We happened to have a small rope tension drum that gave enough of the right kind of sound; we tried a small frame drum first and it didn't have enough cutting power. Make very sure that you have enough singers to carry the sung parts. Some of mine got drafted as dancers, leaving me short handed. There are three places where you MUST keep the orchestra down under the singers: the solo lines starting thirteen after 21; at 25 so the words can be understood; and five after the Lento doloroso on p. 160.

No. 36: Postlude Of Ballet

This is the curtain calls for the ballet, ending up with Tuptim obviously missing, very similar to the contest scene in "Sound of Music." Time the blocking of the bows carefully. We had to repeat from 2 to the beginning to come out right, and take a slightly slower tempo than is marked.

No. 37: Incidental

Straightforward. Our scene change was quick, so we played the whole thing but didn't need to repeat anything. Take the tempo that allows for the scene change; ours was very efficient. In fact we didn't have to stretch the music for any of the scene changes, for once.

No. 38: Song Of The King

Consider repeating the first 2 bars to give the King an introduction. Note that while your book has a repeat at 3, the repeat is written out in some of the orchestra books, so there really should be exactly six bars between 3 and 4 and your King must come in on time at 4.

No. 39: Shall We Dance?

Danger point. The verse should be moderate and contemplative, but at A it can't be too slow; the contemplation is over and she's back in the present. Schedule enough rehearsal time with the King and Anna so that they know how much time they have for their dialog and how they need to pace it. Our director had us stop on the dialog cue at 6, leave it open for their dialog, and then come in with the pickups to K, and it worked well. There was confusion in the orchestra parts about the encore; some parts have more than the six bars in the piano-conductor book. We went with what I had with the gong strike as marked, and it works, with the palace guard on stage hitting the gong on beat nine.

No. 40: Melos: My Lord And Master

This depends on how your director has blocked the end of the scene. I started as Tuptim was dragged off. We didn't do the offstage scream, nor did we do the timpani strokes because in context they didn't make sense. The timing works out best if you don't take it too fast. There's a lovely break 6 before the end, and leaving it open for their last lines is very dramatic. There is a cutoff bump in the orchestra that isn't shown in the piano-conductor book.

No. 41: Processional

Our director cut this for safety reasons: too many people in front of the curtain with an orchestra pit wide open. Capt. Orton and the Interpreter did their lines SR and Phra Alak and the Prince did theirs SL Our scene change was quick, so there was no dead time. (But see No. 45-A.)

No. 42: Reprise: Something Wonderful; No. 43: Polka Doloroso

Another one where you need to be in on the blocking from the very beginning. I wasn't, and our director did not block to the music. In the final dress rehearsal I had the orchestra not even play while I timed the blocking with a stopwatch, then cut and pasted the music to fit. For what it's worth, I started the music just as Anna began to read the letter, and this is very effective dramatically. Then one before 17 we played the first beat as written, had a quarter rest on beat 2, and beats 3 and 4 were the pickups to No. 43. This gave me exactly enough music to bridge the scene change and end as Anna and Louis entered in Scene 6. Lotsa luck! Whatever your director blocks, be flexible and creative and make it work!

No. 44: Reprise: I Whistle A Happy Tune

The director changed my cue and didn't tell me, so I blew it on opening night. Make very sure you know exactly what will happen here. The tempo should be a little slower that in Act I, Scene 1, but not drag. It works to start a little under tempo and very gradually speed up after they start whistling.

No. 45: Finale Ultimo

Again, make sure you know the blocking and make sure that it fits the music. Ours didn't, so to make it come out right at the end I had to play the first 4 bars and then jump to B. If the timing, the King's death, the music and the curtain are all done perfectly, this is a very moving and dramatic ending. And yes, the orchestra should soar over and overwhelm the Prince's lines at the end, as the attention shifts from him to the dead King.

No. 45-A: Curtain Calls

Surprise! There is no 45-A. There is no music for curtain calls! You and your director will have to agree on whether to use music or not. Consider using either No. 10 or No. 41. Since we didn't do the Processional, I used No. 41, starting at "Bright March tempo." For the bar before 10 we substituted the bar before 2. With the timing of our curtain calls, we played between 2 and 10 three times, and it worked out perfectly. The Prince entered at 2, the King and Anna entered at 2, and there was enough music so that we were still playing when we were acknowledged from the stage. (Just dumb luck, plus a little fudging of tempo!) We ended with the bar before 10, molto peasante.

No. 46: Exit Music

On nights when we had a small house, we did not play the repeat at the end. On nights with a full house, we did repeat it.

 

 


The End
Enjoy the show. It's a great one.